Houston and Rice officially announced on Wednesday morning that the annual fight for the Bayou Bucket will move to Reliant Stadium in 2012 and 2013.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of this yesterday when the rumors leaked out - there was certainly a lot of negative reaction from the UH fan base as a whole - but after watching the press conference today, I'm slowly being won over to the idea, under some specific circumstances.
First, Houston AD Mack Rhoades touched on this twice during the presser - he insisted that this would be a "seventh game" in the city of Houston, and that the Cougars will still play six on-campus games a year. That may sound difficult to believe, but it's doable. Houston would have four true home conference games (out of eight) in even years, and three out of eight in odd years. If you buy a home game with a 1-AA opponent every year, only take one-for-one deals in non-conference after that, you just need to arrange it such that you're getting two of your three "real" non-conference games at home in odd years, one of three at home in even years, and Voila! Six home games a year, plus the Reliant game.
Did you follow all that? Alright, next point.
The deal, as announced on Wednesday, only runs two seasons - 2012 and 2013. For this to be a successful idea, it will require a longer-term commitment to the idea. If you believe - and both institutions have made it clear that they do - that this is a big recruiting tool (Rice coach David Bailiff talked about being able to take recruits into Reliant) and can become a major city-wide event that will draw in new fans to both schools, then go for it, publicize the heck out of the game.
But the one-year gimmick thing was tried before, in 2004. It drew 28,000 fans, which would have been respectable at the time for an on-campus stadium, but 28K in an arena the size of Reliant looks pathetic. It's not a recruiting tool if you host the game there twice, it's not going to draw the attention of the city if you do it twice. If you're going to do this, you have to make a long-term commitment to it.
There are certainly still drawbacks. If the Cougars can have six home games a year outside of the Reliant game, that means they're turning down a potential seventh on-campus game every other year. It also potentially cripples your non-conference strength of schedule, because a) you're locked into hosting a 1-AA school every year, and b) you're incapable of accepting any non-conference series that's not one-for-one. Call me crazy, but if the occasional two-for-one is what it takes to get a quality opponent on the schedule, maybe you have to bite that bullet. I'm a big fan of the BYU home-and-home that Houston recently signed, but if that's the sole high-point of your schedule every year (and with the future deals with Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio, yes, BYU's going to be as good as it gets in the near future), something's wrong.
But it is what it is, Cougar fans. It's time to prove that this fan base can support the team in non-ideal conditions. So even if you prefer the tailgating scene at Robertson Stadium, drive across town to Reliant and fill the place up.